Rum, for all intensive purposes, is one of the most underrated spirits out there. That may seem like a bold statement, but take a moment to think about the last time you really considered rum as a drink of choice.
Most people will reach for a good whisky for a straight-up sipping drink; gin tends to get most of the credit when it comes to a good martini; tequila and mezcal have seen a resurgence in being considered a serious spirit; even vodka gets its moment to shine with ice lounges and complex vodka based cocktails. But rum, rum tends to be the throw away spirit that most people don’t give much thought too. Great in some sort of tropical cocktail, or a basic rum and coke, but beyond that rum gets the bottom shelf treatment.
This seem entirely unfair to a spirit that has endured a long storied history, and in some cases is leading the charge in the luxury spirits category. Let’s take a look at the more serious side of rum and reconsider the prominence rum should take within a home bar.
In its most basic form rum is an alcoholic beverage distilled from sugar cane, either from the raw juice, or most commonly from the refined molasses. After distillation, rum is typically is bottled right away, making a clear product that is often only used as a cocktail mixer. On the more sophisticated side rum can be aged in a barrel — usually a used whiskey or bourbon barrel for a minimum of year, but often longer, creating a dark, rich spirit that can be sipped like a whiskey.
While rum doesn’t have the strict classifications like whisky, there are generally three or four categories you can rely on: White, Dark (aged), Spiced, Flavoured. White is generally the best use for the aforementioned cocktails like a great daiquiri or mojito. Dark, or aged rum is fine on its own or in cocktails like a rum old fashioned. Spiced rum works well in festive drinks like eggnog or hot buttered rum, and the flavoured rums, like coconut rum, tend to also fall within the tropical cocktails.
Where rum has seen the most growth, and become a strong contender in luxury spirits has to do with the aged category. Rum has the unique ability to be aged just like a whisky, and the warmer climate that rum producers tend to be located in, opens the porousness of the barrels and really lets the spirit soak in all those oak characteristics.
Producers like Flor de Cana in Nicaragua have gone all in on the aged category, and are being recognized for their dedication. While they have a range of products, their ultra premium line which includes a 12, 18 and 25 year old are world renowned as some of the best rums in the world. Take for example the 25 year old, which earned the distinction of “2017 Best Rum of the Year” by the International Rum Conference in Madrid. It drinks closer to a whisky than you might expect with an aroma that integrates vanilla, wood and dark cocoa notes, mingling smoothly on the palate with fruity, nutty and caramel notes. There is also a pleasant and long-lasting touch of sweetness, which rum is well known for.
So how should you taste a premium rum, to get the most out of it? Here’s a few suggestions:
- Use a good glass: As with a good whisky, a good glass will help elevate the aroma. Think about a snifter glass as a good option.
- Warm it up: Serve the rum at room temperature, and don’t be afraid to cup the glass and warm it with your hands. The warmer temperature will help with both flavour and aroma.
- Sniff softly: Don’t take in a huge whiff of air, the alcohol will overpower your senses. Instead approach it slowly and try to get more of the subtle notes.
- Sip, Drink, Exhale: Take in a small sip first and roll it around your tongue to coat your palate. Then take a more generous sip to get more of those flavours. Don’t forget to exhale afterwards, the alcohol will give off more notes afterwards.
- Look for unexpected flavour: Most people assume they know what rum tastes like, but a good rum, like Flor de Cana’s 25 will surprise you. You may smell caramel banana at first but taste nutmeg and spice after.
The other positive thing about premium rums, is they come at a fraction of the cost of whisky at the moment. When’s the last time you could say you found an 18 year old single origin whisky for under $60? Not very likely, yet because the rum category is still “proving its worth” you can get some very high quality products within that price range, including rums aged as far as 20 years!
Next time you’re in the liquor store, consider taking a stroll down the rum aisle, it may just surprise you.